Since the (second) Anthony Weiner scandal broke, there has been an unleashing of intrusive speculation about…his wife, Huma Abedin. “Understanding Huma Abdedin,” “Blaming Huma Abedin,” “Huma Abedin’s Deja Vu Moment” – just a few of the hundreds of headlines all asking, in some form or another, the same question: why, for god’s sake, is Huma Abedin not leaving her husband? As Maggie Haberman writes for Politico, “Abedin has become the focus of media coverage that’s gone, in short order, from sympathetic to savage.”
Chances are, if this same story were unfolding in France, no one would necessarily care much about why Huma Abedin is not leaving her husband. Which might make things a little less trying for her. In France there would probably be less judgment about her reasons for staying in her marriage, unlike the United States, where the Washington Post’s religion columnist cites biblical proverbs condemning Weiner for the “deceit in his heart,” and Abedin for her cupidity, and CNN’s relationship expert asks why she isn’t at her attorney’s office already.
It’s their problème, would probably be the French view about the sexting (and the resexting), because after all, what couple does not have their problèmes? There is no owner’s manual on how to make the things work. Think of Anne Sinclair, wife of the former head of the IMF, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, who stood by him during both the IMF infidelity scandal when he had an affair with an economist working for him, and the Sofitel scandal that brought him down. Or Danièle Mitterand, the wife of French president Mitterand, who remained married to him while knowing that he had a relationship (and family) with another woman. Or Catherine Millet, a well-known intellectual and writer, famous in the United States for her graphic account of her extra-marital sex life, but less well-known for a subsequent book called Jealousy, about the pain and envy that her husband’s affairs caused her. A book she published while remaining married to him.
In all of these cases there was some speculation about whether the wives might leave; but there was never really any public questioning as to why they would stay. It seemed beside the point, not really relevant to whatever was of public interest in each of the stories (respectively: the credibility of a public official, the credibility of a president, the literary credibility of the book). You could say that ultimately Anne Sinclair did leave her husband or that Catherine Millet reaped the seeds she sowed—but nonetheless there is a sense that no matter what you would do in these situations, you can’t get inside the complex intimacy of a marriage. It is the ultimate unjudgeable institution, because it is the ultimate private institution.
But there is actually one aspect of this story in which French media would probably be just as fierce as the American public opinion—and it is the most intolerable aspect of all in this affair. One of the reasons frequently being cited to explain to a baffled American public why Abedin is staying with Weiner is that she is wildly ambitious and deeply wants to be married to a powerful politician, at any cost. Again, staying in her marriage couldn’t just be a choice she’s made for personal reasons, that’s not (morally) imaginable. But wait, if it’s political—which it must be—then it seems like an even worse choice, because Weiner wasn’t ever particularly illustrious or well-liked as a congressman.
In her Sunday editorial, Maureen Dowd cites someone “close to” Huma Abedin and the Clintons saying, “Bill Clinton was the greatest political and policy mind of a generation…Anthony (Weiner) is behaving similarly without the chops or résumé.” As though a man with chops and résumé were somehow more entitled to tawdry sex scandals. But that’s exactly what’s echoing throughout much of the media coverage, and it’s not unlike the French media’s rationalization as to why they never particularly covered Strauss-Kahn’s well-known and potentially destructive sexual impulses—he was a brilliant economist, a powerful politician. The greatness made it okay, or at least less reprehensible.
Clinton was a great man. Strauss-Kahn was a great man. Anthony Weiner is not a great man. So great men get more of a pass on infidelity and sexual crassness than dweebs? And women like Hillary Clinton can be more forgiven than women like Huma Abedin for choosing not to leave?
Makes you almost want to marry a dweeb. Then at least it becomes perfectly clear what to do in the case of infidelity. Just run from the loser!